How concerned should I be for my family in New York City?
August 26, 2011 6:03 PM   Subscribe

How concerned should I be for my family in New York City?

I don't know if Bloomberg is being overcautious but these reports I'm reading are worrisome. None of my family members live in any of the zones that have been evacuated, but still.

I guess I don't really understand hurricanes which makes it worse. Is safety really as simple as having bottled water, a flashlight, radio, and everything else on the checklist? I also know that lines outside of grocery stores are spilling out onto the streets and a lot of stores are out of batteries and other emergency necessities. I've been trying to find a way to purchase things online and have them delivered on the same day. Any suggestions for stores that do that?

I know that I've asked a few questions in this post, but any reassurance would be greatly appreciated. I regret that I'm not there the weather the storm with my family and wonder what I can do from afar to help them to be prepared.
posted by seriousmoonlight to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Check the metatalk...there's tonnes of us here. Hopefully we'll all be ok!
posted by bquarters at 6:11 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Transportation is going to be an absolute mess starting tomorrow, so it's not likely that you'll be able to find a delivery service. Small corner bodegas seem to be the best bet for batteries, etc. right now. If your family's higher than the 10th floor, they might want to find somewhere else to stay because of the wind. And if you can't reach them by phone on Sunday, don't panic-- we've been warned that cell service might be disrupted.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:18 PM on August 26, 2011

I grew up in Savannah, GA. Because it's kind of tucked in at an angle there it never really gets hit full-force with hurricanes, but we get put on warning/watch for every storm that comes nearby. My family has never evacuated even when they've given evacuation orders. The one that got us the most concerned was Floyd--we didn't pack up and leave, but we did bundle all of our valuables in waterproof tarps and take everything to the second floor. Really the worst that's ever happened is that the power has been out for extended periods and we've had to go outside in the pouring rain to cook our food on the (gas) grill.


To me, all of the AAAHHH, HURRICANE! stuff in the media right now all just sounds like a bunch of people who have never experienced a hurricane freaking out because to them, hurricane=Hurricane Katrina and they're all about to be wiped off the face of the map. If I were in NYC right now, even in an evacuation zone, I would make sure I had enough food/necessities to last me a week, several books, a battery-powered lamp, a battery powered radio, and batteries, then kick back and wait for everything to settle down. Which it almost certainly will.

Fingers crossed.
posted by phunniemee at 6:29 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am just north of the city. Other than a flashlight and extra batteries, I see no reason to worry unless family has critical medical issues such as respirator or oxygen tanks. It will be like a snow day in August. Lots of rain. Chance to catch up on reading or just look out the window and marvel about the intensity of the rain.

The only issue in NYC will be some flooding on the streets and in the subways. A day or two later, no worries.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:36 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The latest forecast shows the storm weakening to a Category 1 by 2 a.m. Saturday before making landfall at Cape Lookout around 2 p.m., according to the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricanes usually weaken dramatically after they make landfall. Landfall will be in North Carolina tonight, and the storm - though still clearly easily capable of downing power lines along the east coast - doesn't look very much like a killer right now. This can change, sure, but I think you really need to keep in mind that any sort of weather incident is a major gift of a cash cow to local tv and radio stations. Relax. You're probably just going to get wet.

A lot of wet.

Is safety really as simple as having bottled water, a flashlight, radio, and everything else on the checklist?

You left out batteries, peanut butter and an evacuation plan just in case. But yeah, unless you're on a coastline with big plate glass windows, you've pretty much got it covered.
posted by mediareport at 6:37 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, link. And I've been following this nice little map from the Palm Beach Post for tracking.

One more fun thing: if you've never been through a hurricane, you should know that the day after a hurricane passes over is pretty much guaranteed to be one of the most beautiful weather days of the year. Seriously. I've seen it over and over. Take advantage of it; the skies will be gorgeous.
posted by mediareport at 6:41 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hurricane = high winds + bands of very heavy rain. The areas of the city that are under evacuation orders are in the most flood-prone, low-lying areas. Everyone else runs a pretty good risk of losing power for some amount of time because of the wind, hard rain, and flooding.

Best case scenario for that area is just a lot of rain. Worst case is serious flooding and flying debris/falling vegetation. Worst case in any situation is an extended power outage.

The radio is to know what's going on. The batteries are for the radio and flashlights, because in a sustained (or night-time) power outage, not being able to see where you're going means you can't make food, walk around your house safely, or investigate any damage. Stores may not be open and/or it may be difficult to impossible to reach one, so that's what the food is for. If the water supply is contaminated by floodwaters, they can't drink tap water (and as someone pointed out in the other thread, anybody above about the fifth floor relies on electric pumps for water pressure to get water at all).

Hopefully your family has at least a couple of working flashlights and some food and water (either bottled and/or they've filled up pots/pans/containers/tubs with water for drinking, washing, and flushing). Hopefully they have some food that will be preparable under less than favorable conditions. (Any food that is more difficult to prepare should be prepared and eaten in the lead-up to the storm, leaving things like bread and peanut butter and canned foods for later if the power is out.)

An important piece of advice I've only heard from one person, who had family in New Orleans in 2005, is this: make absolutely sure now that at least one person knows how and has the means to text you from a phone. The sms network is the last thing to go and is less prone to overload like the voice networks will be.

If they are missing things they need and cannot obtain, with any luck they do not live in isolation and can get some help from people around them. If they do not know their neighbors, they need to go knock on doors tonight and first thing tomorrow.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:48 PM on August 26, 2011

The FIRST day after a hurricane is like a double rainbow, lol... it really is something. Maybe the high pressure, coming back in after the tropical storm, brings clear air, from the upper atmosphere?

Your troubles typically start after a few more days, when it's still incredibly hot, with no A/C, and people are starting to run low on food, ice, and water, fuel, and sanity
posted by thelonius at 6:56 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having grown up in New York, I well remember the Hurricane FREAKOUTS. Board up all the windows, speculate endlessly about whether Long Island will remain, etc. Unless they are on long island it will almost certainly amount to very little; a lot of rain, some downed tree limbs, maybe worst case loss of power. But yeah - water, flashlight, batteries, maybe a tiny bit of food, pretty much ok for NY.
posted by true at 7:02 PM on August 26, 2011

Everyone else here has talked about the immediate dangers (strong winds which could blow debris around, flooding in areas that are really close to sea level, etc.). The "evacuation zones" are for areas that are different distances from shore; that's what the concern is, that "these parts may get a flood". They're getting people out of the flood zones now so they don't have to be rescued from flood later. But even so, we're not talking hip-deep, paddle-a-kayak-down-the-street flooding; my apartment is literally 200 feet from the edge of one of those flood zones, and if the water was THAT deep over THERE, I'd also be part of the official evacuation zones, because I'm only about six feet higher up; as it is, I'm not in ANY of the evacuation zones. "Flooding" is maybe a foot there.

What thelonius talks about, with the "it's hot and there's no A/C and no food", is probably only likely in farther-flung areas in the city. There usually are pockets of the city in any natural disaster -- the snowstorms, the power outages, etc. -- that the city sometimes takes a while to get to (usually the less-central areas), but most of the rest of the city is fixed up first; within a day or so. It's usually in the city's best interest to get the central part of the city up and running as soon as possible, so the businesses can get back on line. It's the locals who live way the hell out on the edges that get a little screwed over, unfortunately.

So your family should be fine. There is always the possibility that a rogue wind gust could blow a branch through a window, but we're not facing Miami 2017 here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:09 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Really, if they are away from the flood danger area, and they are in a legal structure, they are going to be perfectly safe tomorrow.

The authorities in New York have chosen to take very serious precautions, like closing the transit system, because they conclude that level of civil disaster risk is high enough to justify clearing the streets, bridges, and tunnels. This seems to me to be the correct thing for the G to do, but, unfortunately, it does create some extra impression of oncoming catastrophe, beyond what is needed to get the public's attention.
posted by thelonius at 7:16 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up in NYC and LI, been through heaps of nor'easters and hurricanes - this really isn't a big deal and I can't imagine what all the fuss is about right now unless you are on the tip of LI, on Fire Island, or some similar unprotected shoreline.

What phunniemee and JohnnyGunn said, especially about storms losing power as they make landfall.

NY is not Florida or other points down south. It'll be fine!
posted by jbenben at 7:41 PM on August 26, 2011

In any thread like this (basically, any thread asking about any risk of any kind), you'll always get some people saying there's nothing to worry about. Go by the specific forecasts for this hurricane, not New York's general history with hurricanes (and of course not one individual's history with hurricanes!). Unfortunately, the forecasts can't predict exactly where the hurricane will hit or how strong it will be, but ... better safe than sorry.
posted by John Cohen at 8:04 PM on August 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would not worry too much. Everything here will probably be a bit of a hassle for a few days, but its really unlikely that we're talking about a Hurricane Katrina sort of scenario. If they're being smart and prepared, I'm confident they'll be fine.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:13 PM on August 26, 2011

It will probably fizzle before it many of them do. But look at the bright side, your family could be in Virginia, in an earthquake zone where we are STILL suffering daily aftershocks, waitig for a hurricane to hit. See? Life can always get worse. (And thank you local & national news for totally misreporting that, along with the fact that Louisa county has declared a state of emergency due to heavy damages including the destruction of almost all of their schools.) We keep hearing the hurricane could aggravate the slippage.
posted by Ys at 9:45 PM on August 26, 2011

As long as your family is outside the evacuation zone and they take the simple precautions others mention above they will very likely be safe and not have a problem riding out the storm.

However, one should never underestimate the power of even a minimal hurricane to cause widespread damage. Irene has a very extensive area of tropical storm strength winds. The National Weather Service is saying the city could see sustained winds of 40 mph or more for 10-12 consecutive hours Saturday and Sunday. Several of those hours could see sustained winds of 50-70 mph with higher gusts. Since the ground is already saturated and another 6-12 inches of rain could fall, trees are going to blow over like crazy in the high winds. Obviously by staying inside your family will greatly reduce their exposure to this risk.

One problem to be concerned about is the indirect effects of the storm surge. The storm surge is the mound of water a hurricane builds up, usually to the northeast of the eye, and pushes around on the ocean surface. Evacuation Zone A in the city is the low-lying area expected to flood from a surge caused by a hurricane of Irene's strength. There is a slight, but not negligible, chance that the surge will be high enough to affect the electrical grid (ConEd has several power plants right at sea level) and the subway system (the Coney Island yards could get flooded as could the subway stations in lower Manhattan). This would not put your family at risk but it has the potential to cause them days of inconvenience as both systems are brought back online.
posted by plastic_animals at 9:50 PM on August 26, 2011

I am sure, that in retrospect, we will see that there was way too much hype leading up to this storm. The center of whatever is left of Irene will pass just east of NYC. Winds on the west side of tropical systems in the northeast are not strong. The highest winds will be further east, out over Long Island. And I would be surprised if Irene is still a hurricane by the time it reaches the NYC area. It has not even made landfall yet over North Carolina and the max winds are down to 90 mph (if they drop below 75 mph--it will lose hurricane status). And if the forecast track verifies, the western side will be interacting with land along the entire trip north. By the time it reaches NYC, it will be a much degraded tropical system. Expect lots of rain. That will be the real story with this storm. There will be flooding of low lying areas, but that isn't any different than "normal" heavy rain events in the northeast. But as far as winds go, yeah, it will be windy, but nothing of any great concern. I guarantee that roofs will NOT BE BLOWING OFF HOUSES IN THE NYC AREA. So relax. The most destructive hurricanes in the northeast have historically taken tracks further east, just missing the outer banks of North Carolina and thereby maintaining their strength out over the gulf stream. From that point they have all accelerated north and northeast so they didn't have time to weaken while passing over the cooler ocean between the gulf stream and the NE coast, before making first landfall in Long Island or Southern New England (which jut out to the east). And with that scenario, the storms miss NYC to the east. That is why places like Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have a much more significant hurricane history than places like NYC or New Jersey.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:09 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The NYT tracking map (via MeTa), in addition to showing the likely path of the eye, also shows the areas currently experiencing hurricane-force and tropical storm-force winds - just zoom in. It's much more useful than the one I linked above.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on August 27, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses. I can't really mark any one of them as the best answer because they are all very helpful!
posted by seriousmoonlight at 6:58 AM on August 27, 2011

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